Lords force government to defuse sewage discharge into seas and rivers

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Peers forced the government to tackle the dumping of raw sewage into rivers and the sea.

The House of Lords supported by 213 votes to 60, a majority 153, a proposal to impose a new legal obligation on water companies to “take all reasonable steps” to prevent sewage discharges.

This will send the environmental bill back to the House of Commons where the government will table its own amendment.

It will impose on public service companies the legal obligation to “ensure a progressive reduction of the negative impacts of discharges from storm overflows”.

The concession came in the face of yet another defeat in the House of Lords, amid a legislative row over the bill, as the UK prepares to host the Cop26 global climate summit in Glasgow from October 31.

The Commons last week rejected a series of changes made to the bill by the upper house, including imposing a new legal obligation on water companies to “take all reasonable steps” to prevent sewage discharges.

But peers were set to again support the measure proposed by independent MP The Duke of Wellington and thus send it back to the elected chamber for MPs to think again as part of the parliamentary ping-pong, where a draft law moves between the two chambers until an agreement can be reached.

Speaking to the Lords, Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park said there were “rightly” concerns in Westminster and among the public about the “unacceptable frequency with which sewage are poured by storms into our rivers, lakes and seas. “

Highlighting a series of measures taken to tackle the problem, he said the government and its MPs’ support for dumping sewage into waterways was “factually incorrect”.

But after listening to the concerns, he added, “I am absolutely delighted to confirm that the government will bring forward a Commons amendment at the next stage.

“This will place a direct legal obligation on water companies to gradually reduce the negative impact of storm overflows.”

Although the government could not accept the exact amendment proposed by the Duke of Wellington, the minister said: “I can absolutely assure members that the government amendment instead will produce the same action, reducing costs. discharge of wastewater into our rivers. ”

Lord Adonis (Isabel Infantes / PA)

He had previously sharply criticized former Labor minister Lord Adonis, whom he accused of “spreading a malicious lie” in social media posts on the issue.

Lord Goldsmith said: ‘Over the course of dozens of tweets he was trying to get his Twitter followers to believe, let’s face it not always balanced, something about me and the government that just isn’t true and that he knows to be wrong.

“By suggesting that we help companies pollute our waters more easily, he was spreading a grotesque reversal of the truth. “

Arguing it was because of his peers ‘vehement opposition to Brexit, Lord Goldsmith added:’ He may have been distracted by Brexit, but he’s not a stupid person, he wants his words have consequences.

“In this sewage debate, he has absolutely covered himself with the substance and therefore shame on him.”

The Duke of Wellington said: “It is unacceptable to allow the repeated and continuous discharge of sewers into rivers, lakes and coastal waters.

He added: “It is certainly reasonable that water companies are required by law to show regulators that they are taking all reasonable steps to prevent this appalling practice, which is not acceptable in a civilized society in the 21st century. .

“Especially in a country hosting the climate summit next week and trying to lead the world in high environmental standards. “

He was backed by a Labor peer and former naval chief Lord West of Spithead, who said: “I have sailed and swam in British waters for six decades.

“I was constantly appalled at the amount of raw sewage that I found in this water and it got worse.”

Previously, the peers had inflicted defeats on the government by again demanding measures to ensure the independence of the new ecological watchdog, the Office for the Protection of the Environment (OEP).

Lords have also supported measures to give courts improved remedies when a public authority has failed to comply with environmental law after an OEP opinion.


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